[Blog] Connecting Water Technologies For a True Smart Network

Having worked in partnership with municipalities and water utilities for 40 years, we understand the pressures to cut leakage has never been greater.

There is a water main break in the US every two minutes, according to 2021 figures.

The water sector acknowledges that the 2.2 million miles of water mains across the USA are aging and underfunded. Treating water to drinking quality standard costs money. Utilities do not want to be losing 25-30% of this water through leaking pipes before it reaches the customer. As well as having huge environmental impacts on stretched water resources, losing 30% of your treated water is bad news from a financial and reputational standpoint.

At the same time, the urgent need for utilities to tackle the effects of climate change, growing water stress and increasing populations, is not going away. The good news is, investment programs in USA are expanding and water utilities are building their resilience, at the same time as deploying more innovative water technologies for smarter networks. It is a viable time to ramp up leak detection in a cost effective and sustainable way and accelerate the adoption of new technology.


Leak detection is a skill

The expertise to find leaks on huge water distribution networks is accrued over many years. Ovarro supports its customers on that journey by partnering with them to get the best results. We do not just capture data or send out a piece of equipment, we hold their hands and support them as they learn to use it most effectively.

This partnership approach also includes collaborating on the research and development of new solutions, ensuring they are secure, intuitive and easy to use for the teams on the ground. There are huge gains to be made by embracing joint-working. In leakage, the vast local network knowledge embedded within utilities and municipalities, combined with the research and development capabilities of the supply chain, can lead to significant technological advancements. 


Smaller leaks are easier to find

When looking for leaks, we tend to find the smaller leaks first. Thinking of the garden hose analogy, if you squeeze the hose down, less water escapes but it makes more noise. Correlators will “lock on” to the loudest noise and so they are easier to find. Those small leaks will turn into big leaks eventually but are effectively the background noise to the larger leaks, with potential to cause catastrophic damage to infrastructure. After they are repaired the larger leaks are easier to find, another plus to permanent monitoring.


The sector is moving towards fixed water networks

Historically, leak detection efforts would focus on a specific area. The common approach would be to let leakage creep up over time and then send teams into area A to try and reduce the overall leakage there. Once that has come down, they move to area B. 

Now, the internet of things (IoT) is reshaping network monitoring allowing utilities to move to fixed water networks of permanent monitoring devices and loggers, capturing data which is fed back to a central system via communications technology.

This is increasing real-time and predictive capabilities - leak detection systems can be set up to permanently monitor the network in real-time. What we effectively have is a permanent network alarming device, capable of detecting leaks early.


Data loggers are the first step in the leak detection journey

Having data loggers on the network gives you a top-level overview - it allows companies to accurately and reliably record parameters for pressure, flow and level across the water network. Establishing a baseline helps to plan an effective leak detection campaign.

The data can provide insight into areas that you might want to focus more on and gives insight into trends occurring on your network, that you may not have known were happening. Data loggers give you an extra set of eyes to look over assets and allow you to be more targeted in your leakage strategies. 


Reducing leaks cuts carbon emissions 

Water and wastewater operations typically contribute 30-40% to a municipality’s total energy use and the global sector is currently estimated to contribute up to 5% of greenhouse gas emissions. The link between leakage and carbon should not be underestimated.

The more water we save through leakage reduction, the more energy we stop wasting, through the pumping of treated water that ends up being lost through leaky pipes. The pumping of treated water is particularly energy-intensive. If a utility is can reduce the amount of water being treated and put into supply, it will reduce the amount of energy being consumed, leading to a drop in operational carbon emissions. A win-win.